Goodbye NY-Wednesday-4/6

JFK/Manhattan, Day 62-Stored our luggage at the hotel and grabbed a cab to Manhattan. Susan’s apartment is in a 5 floor brownstone (literally) across from the Flatiron building. She has a great walk up flat with two fireplaces and baths. The neighborhood is bustling and is located between Union Square and Madison Square parks.


We had a very yummy lunch at Irvington cafe in the W Hotel on Union Square. After lunch we walked around and got the insiders neighborhood tour, which was fascinating. Susan took us to Eataly, which is a large emporium of everything consumable and Italian. They have shelves and shelves of olive oils, cheeses, gelato, wine, fresh and dried pastas, beers, coffee, olives, seafood and much more. We went back later to hang out before our cab arrived. As you can see they carry Stumptown coffee, about the only non-Italian product we saw.


We are now sitting in Terminal 5 of JFK waiting for our flight home at 8:40 pm. This is the end of the blog until the next big adventure. Thank you to all that have been following along. Your interest and comments have been appreciated. Caio!

Goodbye Madrid-Tuesday-4/5

Madrid/New York, Day 62-we had a great last evening in Madrid at the Gourmet Experience a few blocks from our hotel. It’s an interesting concept that seems to be working well. Gourmet food stalls, bars, groceries and liquor. It’s all perched on top of a department store with killer views of Madrid. We managed to get a view table from a US couple that were leaving. Pete had pizza and I had dim sum, yayyyy everyone gets exactly what they want.

imageThere were some artists working on a display while we were having dinner. As you can see the place was hopping. We were so lucky to get a table.


We were up earlier this morning to finish packing, have breakfast and catch out 10:15 shuttle to the airport. Of course it was sunny and warmer today. We flew on Lufthansa to Frankfurt and then on to New York. With a 16 hour travel day, we were determined not to sleep, so we could adjust to the time change easier. Got into JFK at 7:30 pm and were able to get a normal nights sleep. We are meeting our friend Susan Sugar in Manhatten tomorrow and don’t want to be zombies. image


Madrid, Spain, Day 61-Madrid is a sea of umbrellas, with continual rain throughout the day. The umbrella I had been carrying broke down and Pete hadn’t brought one, so our first business of the day was to obtain umbrellas. After that we walked to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (or just Thyssen). The museum opened at noon. Unbeknownst to us, it was a free admission day at the museum. We waited in a smartly moving queue 2 blocks long and were very damp by the time we made it to the entrance.


Baron Thyssen moved the family’s 1600 paintings to Spain after the city fathers in Lugano, Switzerland refused his application to enlarge the family estate to display the collection. The Baron had married Carmen Cervera, her influence was the deciding factor in the move to Madrid. The Baroness is still very involved and leases her own collection of 429 paintings to the museum. The paintings consist of Old Masters, along with 19th and 20th century Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works (many picked up from desperate American millionaires during the depression).

To the left is a cubist painting by Juan Gris, upper right is a Kandinsky and lower right Max Ernst.

I stayed until closing. They had to pry many of us out, shooing us from gallery to gallery towards the exit. Pete spent the last hour the museum was open at a nearby Starbucks. Two days of art museums was just a bit too much for him, but he was a very good sport and did enjoy many of the artworks.

Top is Chagall, then left to right, Braque, Picasso and Feininger.


Madrid, Spain, Day 60-The 10% chance of rain was more like a 70% chance of rain with temperatures in the low 50’s. People here were bundled up in down coats and mufflers. Everyone had their hands jammed in their pockets. I didn’t see any gloves, except for mine. We went towards the Prado again, but this time we bought tickets and spent 3 hours looking at the fabulous religious and secular paintings. The Prado is one of the greatest art museums in the would. It was established in 1819 and comprises 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings. About 1300 works are one display at a time. Thousands more are out on loan to other museums and institutions. Spending 3 hours wandering the galleries wasn’t enough time to see more than a little over half the collection currently on display. They don’t allow photos, except I have one from a very naughty person that will remain unnamed.imageThis painting of The Feast of Herod is a masterpiece by Bartholomeus Strobel the younger. Salome is crowned, right of the pillar, with the head of John the Baptist on a platter. The painting is over 32′ long and is absolutely stunning in detail, color and execution. Here is a copy of the painting from Wikipedia, with some close up details below. This painting was one of our favorites in the entire museum.


The featured photo is of the fountain of Neptune, located between the Prado and the Thyssen museum that we will visit tomorrow. There is a little art store near the Prado that has some winsome mannequins on their balconies.


We stopped for a glass of wine, which comes with a little plate of tapas on the house. Restaurante Viva Madrid opened in 1856. This little pit stop was our afternoon pain killer and snack. Nothing like creeping through a museum for hours to make anything that might flare up, do just that.

imageOn our walk back to the hotel we passed the famous Cibeles (the Greek goddess of fertility and nature) fountain and square.

imageHere is a close up of the sculpture.



Madrid, Spain, Day 59-This is supposed to be our warmest day in Madrid with temperatures hitting the low 60’s. We headed down to Puerta del Sol. This rather simple plaza is reputed to be the exact center of Spain. It is marked zero road kilometers and all distances in Spain are measured from here. The  Puerta Del Sol (Gate of the Sun) was one of the gates in the city wall that surrounded Madrid in the 12th century. This is a main meeting place in Madrid and where we can catch the hop on/hop off bus for route 2 to the north, modern Madrid.

imageModern Madrid is still mixed with some of old Madrid. Very interesting architecture and huge wide boulevards, some with three and four lanes each direction, divided by medians with trees, grass and masses of flowers.


We hopped off at the Prado again and walked to the south of the botanical garden to the used booksellers, an institution in Madrid.


The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) is a must see along with the adjacent Almundena Cathedral (featured Photo).

The palace once housed the royal family, but now is used for state functions. An old castle was first occupied the site in the 16th century, but it burned in 1734 and the new palace was completed in 1755. The palace is 1,450,000 square feet and contains 3,418 rooms. It is the largest palace in Europe by floor space. Not exactly cozy….the royal family has chosen to live in a smaller palace on the outskirts of Madrid.

We backtracked to the Plaza Mayor, another popular meeting place in Madrid. Lined with outdoor cafes, we decided to have dinner at the Museo de Jamón Cafe (Museum of Ham). They featured cured ham from all over Spain. We enjoyed some of the Jamón Ibérico, from black Iberian pigs. Absolutely delicious!





Madrid, Spain, Day 58-After Africa, Madrid, a sophisticated, fashionable European city of over 3 million people (at least a third of which seem to be on the streets at any one time) is quite a shock. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve been here. I’d forgotten the city’s historic center is so incredibly beautiful. We are staying at Hotel Atlantico, on the Gran Via in city center where we can walk to most of the attractions.

imageHonestly we were beat after last nights red eye flight and 3 very short nights in Arathusa. We got into Madrid about 1 pm on 3/31. We’d arranged for an airport pick up to the hotel and were able to check in a bit early. We did our best to stay awake turning the day. Our dinner reservations were at a little restaurant, Rosi La Loca Tabern. We had to wend our way through increasingly narrow streets to find it, not an easy task. But it was worth it for the very yummy tapas and mushroom soup. We took a small detour and hit the sack.

imageOur detour on the way back to the hotel was to check out the neighboring mall. Oops! We quickly did a short circuit around one level and made for the exit. We just weren’t in the mood for the flashing displays, loud music and hoards of people.

imageOur room is so comfortable, we slept in this morning and didn’t get out until late morning. While Pete was out trying to get our Africa phone switched to a Spain phone, I bought tickets at our hotel for the city Hop on/ Hop off bus. A bit nippy in the high 50’s F, but we sat in the open air top. We got off at the Botanical gardens (see featured photo) next to the Prado Art Museum. It is spring in Madrid, trees and flowers are just starting to pop out. Although it’s not very warm, the sun is out and the city seems to sparkle. Thinking of doing the museums on Monday, because it’s supposed to rain.

We hoofed it back to the hotel to get some exercise, which felt great and tiring after doing little but riding in a car for 3 1/2 weeks.

We love the architecture in the old city. The ornate facades, statues and monuments seem to be everywhere, competing for attention.

After our day out walking, we decided to eat in the hotel bar & cafe. I ordered a double scotch, which in most places is a neat little glass of two ounces. Here I was given a fish bowl, with the soda added. The balcony off the bar is charming with views of the city. Too bad it was too cold to sit out.


Goodbye South Africa-3/30 to 3/31

South Africa/Madrid, Day 57-Flew out of Nelspirit’s Kruger airport on a small South African Airlines commuter flight to Jberg (Johannesburg), a whopping 35 minutes of air time. At  Jberg Airport we picked up our Air France boarding passes that we were unable to access in Arathusa, due to lack of internet. Then it was time to deal with South Africa’s VAT tax refund system for tourists. Anything we were bringing home and any medical VAT charges were refundable at the airport. We queued up to give our purchase receipts to an inspector for review. Some people (fortunately not us) were asked to show the purchased items. People were unpacking suitcases and had purchases spread all over the floor. Then it was upstairs to the VAT refund office to wait in queue again. The only reason we were going through this exercise was to get the VAT back on our dental work, which came to about $400 US. Definitely worth a couple queues. We noticed that one of the clerks was a bit difficult with people. Bad luck, when we got to the front of the line we got her. She disallowed our dental receipts, because they didn’t have an invoice number. They had account numbers, business ID numbers and VAT numbers. Good grief, really?? So, we had to email Colleen at The Dental Practice and ask her to redo the receipts, which we will have to snail mail to South Africa for the refund. We should start a pool on when and if we ever see the money. I’m adding a bunch of South Africa photos as a goodbye for now.

The featured photo: Arathusa Safari Lodge surprised us one morning by putting on this breakfast feast out by an animal viewing stand in the bush. As I was getting ready to sit down these Dung Beetles and a rather large Millipede decided that traveling under my chair looked good to them.


The female has laid her egg in the dung, giving it moisture and heat. The male rolls the dung to a hole he’s dug while she holds on to the ball. Along the way the dung picks up dirt and sand, giving it the hard shell you can see in the photo. Just what you’ve wanted to know, right?

A baby Giraffe, and approximately one year old Leopard that is still hanging out with her mother milking it for everything she can. Until her mother has another litter she won’t have to go out on her own. She has unusual coloration on her legs. White background with larger spots in the middle, then the tan with spots near her paws.

imageThe ubiquitous Impala viewed from in front of our room having a drink and frisking around. They’re sort of like the chickens in Hawaii. They are everywhere in Kruger.

Top left is a little wildflower called Lion’s Eye. Each flower is open for just one day.  A beautiful sunset top right. On the  bottom our ride back to the lodge in the evening. The couple, Simon and Annette are sitting behind Ryan. They are from Northern Ireland, super nice and have traveled the world. We exchanged contact information, really hope to see them again. Debeer is sitting out over the hood on the left, so he can spot animals and tracks. He has to hold on to the open chair for dear life over some of the rough terrain.

The red eye to Paris was about as good as it gets flying for over 10 hours. We were in a new Airbus A 380 and it was lovely. From Paris to Madrid things sort of fell apart, with a Air Traffic Controllers strike right when we were loaded on the plane. We were 2 1/2 hours late getting off the ground. Thank goodness we didn’t have a connecting flight.